Lawyers expressed concerns regarding aspects pertaining to confidentiality in the provisions of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Bill.

Attorney-at-Law Gehan Gunatilleke said that at the moment, the Bill is unclear on whether the confidentiality requirement is solely attached to the identity of the person who submits information to the OMP or whether it also attaches to the information provided.

Section 15(1) of the Bill reads, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any written law, except in the performance of his duties under this Act, every member, officer, servant and consultant of the OMP shall preserve and aid in preserving confidentiality with regard to matters communicated to them in confidence. The provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, No. of 2016, shall not apply with regard to such information.”
“The blanket exclusion of the RTI Act can be problematic if the scope of confidentiality is not clarified in the Bill,” he added.

“Confidentiality should only apply if the person submitting the information requests so, and this should be handled on a case-by-case basis. A blanket prohibition on disclosure should not apply to the information itself – unless that information falls within the scope of the exceptions already provided for in the RTI Act. This is a cause for some concern,” he observed.

Gunatilleke also cited a report titled ‘Commentary on the Bill titled Office on Missing Persons’ written by Attorney-at-Law Niran Anketell and published by the South Asian Centre for Legal Studies, which in its analysis outlined that it is thus critical that the OMP formulates precise and specific rules concerning the way in which it deals with the issue of confidentiality, adding also that the Parliament should clarify the scope of the confidentiality requirements set out in the Bill.
(R LJ)